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DEVIL BAT, THE (director: Jean Yarborough; screenwriters: from a story by George Bricker/John T. Neville; cinematographer: Arthur Martineli; editor: Holbrook N. Todd; music: David Chudnow; cast: Bela Lugosi (Dr. Paul Carruthers), Suzanne Kaaren (Mary Heath), Dave O’Brien (Johnny Layton, reporter), Donald Kerr (‘One-Shot’ McGuire, photographer), Yolande Mallott (Maxine), Arthur Q. Bryan (Joe McGinty, editor), Guy Usher (Henry Morton), Edward Mortimer (Martin Heath), Hal Price (Chief Wilkins), Gene O’Donnell (Don Morton), Alan Baldwin (Tommy Heath), John Ellis (Roy Heath); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Gallagher; PRC; 1940)
“Rubbed me the right way.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This low-budget campy horror film directed by Jean Yarborough, based on a story by George Bricker and starring Bela Lugosi, rubbed me the right way. It was deliciously maddening, like the strong scent from a perfumed madame. Bela is madman scientist Dr. Paul Carruthers, viewed by everybody in town as the lovable dreamer chemist, who keeps to himself that he has a long-standing beef with cosmetic industrialists Henry Morton and Martin Heath. Those two residents of Heathville, a village in the Midwest, became filthy rich and happy because of Carruthers’ formulas, while he remained secretly embittered as a mere wage-earner living off their flattery and the surprise trifling bonus they toss him every once in a while. Carruthers accepted a $10,000 payment instead of investing in the firm after his creation of a greaseless formula, which proved when marketed to make Morton and Heath very wealthy partners.

Carruthers plans his revenge as he creates in his lab giant killer bats by electrically enlarging them. They attack by swooping down on people who wear only the experimental after-shave lotion he invented with an unknown ingredient imported from Tibet. His aim is to eliminate all members of the Morton and Heath family. In the film’s most pleasurable chilling shot, Carruthers stands outside his lab peering through the door window to view his creation of the Devil Bats as a devilish smile comes over him.

The first vic is Roy Heath, Martin’s oldest son. Roy goes to Carruthers lab to give him a bonus check of $5,000 and is persuaded to rub just a little dab of the experimental after-shave lotion on his neck. At home, Roy is attacked by the giant Devil Bat and has his jugular vein severed. The weird unexplained murder catches the interest of a Chicago newspaper and the editor sends reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O’Brien) and photographer ‘One-Shot’ McGuire (Donald Kerr) to cover the story. After the reporter arrives the Devil Bat kills Heath’s other son (Alan Baldwin) and Morton’s son (Gene O’Donnell) in the same manner.

Johnny sticks around the Heath mansion even after fired for sending out a fake photograph of the Devil Bat. He does this to prove he really saw the Devil Bat and in the hope of figuring out who the killer is, but really because he’s attracted to old man Heath’s pretty daughter Mary (Suzanne Kaaren) and wants to protect her. The Devil Bat is killed by Johnny when it attacks McGuire, after he used the lotion sample Carruthers gave Johnny. After a fourth murder takes place by another Devil Bat, Johnny closes in on Carruthers and saves the day. The small-town police chief (Hal Price) takes a back seat to the big-city reporter and lets him him play detective to his heart’s content.

This is one of PRC’s first horror movies and it proved to be its biggest horror film box-office success. It was remade as “The Flying Serpent” in 1946 and starred George Zucco, and differed almost entirely from the original.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”